Wayne Gretzky, known to millions of hockey fans as "The Great One," wasn't the biggest, fastest, or strongest hockey player ever, but he was without a doubt the best so far. When he retired from play in 1999, the National Hockey League retired his jersey number as well and inducted him into the NHL Hall of Fame immediately, without the customary waiting period. Wayne's great talent was his ability to read the game and consistently make the right moves, earning him records for scoring year after year. The Great One started playing hockey on an ice rink in his backyard as a little boy in Canada, practicing before and after school and even after eating dinner with his skates on! His life tells the story of how far hard work and smart thinking can take a kid from Brantford, Ontario.
Throughout his life, basketball superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson has met both challenges and opportunities with perseverance and leadership. Dubbed "Magic," Johnson blazed a spectacular career in basketball. His play with the Los Angeles Lakers as point guard alongside center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as well as his epic rivalry with the Boston Celtics’ forward Larry Bird, marked a legendary era in the NBA. In 1991, Magic announced he had tested positive for HIV, a virus that can lead to the life-threatening disease AIDS, and was retiring from basketball. Little was known then about HIV/AIDS and its prevention. His declaration shocked the public but succeeded in putting a familiar and much-admired face on a disease that was shrouded in fear and prejudice. Magic Johnson's legacy includes his inspirational work as an advocate for the prevention of HIV and the still-incurable disease AIDS through his own foundation, which provides programs for HIV/AIDS education and prevention, including testing and safe sex practices.
At a time when much of the United States was still racially segregated, Jackie Robinson smashed the color barrier to become the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. Born in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers, Robinson excelled in sports throughout his school years. After serving briefly in the army during WWII, he briefly played ball in the Negro Leagues. At about the same time, a handful of all-white Major League teams paid lip service to trying out black players. But it was when Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 that he became a part of what would be called "The Noble Experiment." Outspoken in the past when it came to racial injustice, Robinson endured racist jeers from fans and players, and even death threats, with dignity and composure. His historic feat of crossing baseball's "color line" became a symbol in the American civil rights movement in the decades that followed.
Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky. Early in his life, his skills developed from those he needed to stand up to a playground bully into the championship form that earned him a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. As a professional fighter, Ali became known not just for the speed and agility with which he won three world heavyweight championships, but also for his charm, wit, and showmanship. Outside the ring, the courage of his stand against the military draft made him both a revered cultural hero and a lightning rod for the issues that divided Americans during the Vietnam War. In the decades following his boxing career, Ali has become regarded as one of the most recognized people on the planet. He has lent his name, influence, and generosity to a host of humanitarian causes. Today, having earned the affection of billions of people worldwide, the peoples champ is, as ever, The Greatest.
In the days before performance-enhancing substances, the great Hank Aaron hit a career-record 755 home runs, a mark he held for 33 years. Hammerin' Hank began his baseball career in the Negro Leagues when black players were still banned from Major League Baseball. Hank played for 23 years in Milwaukee and Atlanta and made the All-Star team in both the National and American Leagues for 20 straight years.
Calvin Klein, a boy from the Bronx, took his first clothing line of three dresses and six coats to an appointment at Bonwit Teller, New York's department store for the wealthy. Before long, he had designed a line of jeans that sold 200,000 in a week, and he was called the "King of Clothes" by People magazine. Along the way, he became known throughout the world for the beauty of his elegantly uncluttered clothing. In partnership with childhood friend Bernie Schwartz, he built an empire around his ideas that came to include fragrances, cosmetics, underwear, and home decor. Today his clothes are recognized as classics, and his style represents the best in American design.
Before they spearheaded the musical phenomenon called the British Invasion, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were just four kids from Liverpool. Throughout the 1960s, however, they embodied, as the Beatles, the musical, artistic, social, and spiritual promise of an entire generation. After their stormy breakup in 1970, the Fab Four became four solo artists, at times even appearing on each others recordings. In addition to the millions of records each band member has sold on his own since their breakup, more than 40 Beatles compilation albums have been released and continue to sell millions of copies. To this day, more than one billion Beatles recordings have sold, and thousands of books, academic papers, blogs, and websites are dedicated to the group. Despite being the Beatles for only a decade, John, Paul, George, and Ringo together formed the most successfuland arguably the most influentialmusical group in history.